Reviewing Portraits

I was in the mood to mess with this blog today, so I’ve managed to transfer all photographs for posts from today back to the beginning of November of last year into my own servers. It’s been fun to review the posts over the last 12 months – and satisfying to make progress on this unwelcome, but necessary, task.

While I was at it, I also transferred all the photos in the series of “Equipment Portraits” postings I’ve made – in which I share photos and information about the locomotives and rolling stock that run on my layout and/or on the exhibition layout built by my friends in the S Scale Workshop. If you’re new to the blog and you’re not familiar with those – or if you just want to revisit them – click on CNR 79431, below…

CNR 79431 - Portrait

30 days to broken links

Photobucket just sent me the following message:

This message is to inform you that we discontinued the Plus 20 plan in June of this year. We have grandfathered your expired plan for several months as a convenience.

In order to keep your account current and all of your content available, we are asking that you migrate over to one of our current Plus plan offerings.

Failure to do so within 30 days will result in your billing to be suspended, and your account will be reverted to a free account.

If you have any questions about your account or which of our current offerings is right for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

This basically means that in 30 days, all of my photo links will be broken. I will NOT have the site migrated over in the next 30 days: sorry about that. And I’m not paying US$400 per yer to maintain the links.

(Thanks to the many people who have offered suggestions in the past about how to deal with this problem. I think we’ve covered the waterfront on the issue, so I’ve turned off the “comments” feature on this post. Let’s move on…)

When Photobucket announced its decision to axe 3rd party hosting, those with free accounts were immediately cut off. Since I had a paying plan, I’ve been given a grace period. At the time, it sounded like I would have until the end of next year to complete my migration, but apparently that’s not that case.

I understand Photobucket’s decision – they are losing money and needed to change to become sustainable. I don’t agree that they’ve made the right call – US$400 is just too steep for most. But frankly, if everybody who used it for free had purchased a modest annual plan from the start (as I did), the company might not have had to take the actions that it did.

While I sympathize with their plight, it doesn’t change the fact that in a month, most of my photo links will be broken. I will not lose the photos themselves – I’ll be able to view them on the Photobucket site, and I have copies of all of the images on my own hard drive. But it’s going to take time to transfer them to the same server that hosts this blog.

Sorry – that’s life online for you!

Battling the OGRE

The Ogre, in this case, is Photobucket… and the battle has turned into a slog.

There are many things I would rather do* than rebuild this blog by transferring my photos off Photobucket and into WordPress. But it has to be done. I reported in mid-August that I’d moved three months worth of photos in three weeks. Now, at the beginning of October, it’s been six weeks and I’ve only done about a month’s worth.

It’ll be amazing if I get it all done within the allotted time, before Photobucket no longer supports third-party hosting for my blog.

*Like paint miniatures for OGRE/GEV, from Steve Jackson Games. These have languished in their boxes, unpainted, for some 25 years now. So compared to them, I’m blazing a trail through my blog…

The Command Post was well guarded. But it wasn't enough.

The Ontario Manifest is this weekend

I’m headed off later this week to attend Ontario Manifest – the 2017 annual convention for the Pacific Southwest Region of the NMRA. I’ve been invited to deliver the after-dinner speech at the banquet on Saturday night. I’m ready to go and looking forward to it!

I like California – a lot. I’ve been a couple of times, including for hobby-related events – and there’s a lot of spectacular railway modelling taking place in the state. The people are a ton of fun, too. I’m looking forward to spending a couple of days with them.

PSR-NMRA Banquet Speech

For the banquet, I’ll be offering up some thoughts about where the hobby is going, where we’ll find the next generation of serious hobbyists, and what we can do to foster them. I spoke on this topic at the Niagara Frontier Region NMRA convention in Ottawa, Canada just over a year ago, and had a lot of interesting feedback from those who attended. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts in California.

I’m also looking forward to my first visit to the Orange Empire Railway Museum.

And yes, I’ll post all about the trip when I return…

Please Stand By

As a consequence of being out of the country for a week, I’ll be tardy about responding to comments on my blogs until late next week – and if you’re a first-time commenter, your post may get held in the moderator’s cue until then. Apologies in advance – that’s just the reality of the Internet these days: everybody gets moderated the first time.

Six years of blogging

On this day in 2011, I started writing about Port Rowan in 1:64, with a post called “Breaking Marley’s Chains”. You can find that post – and other early ones that outline the thinking that evolved into this layout – on the “First Time Here?” page.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how the layout has taken shape while remaining true to the ideas I set out in those early posts.

Coincidentally, I spoke last night at a local social club for railway modelling enthusiasts and railfans, and one of the subjects I touched upon was the power of coupling a blog to a layout project. I think this blog remains my most important tool for modelling Port Rowan in S scale.

That’s due, by the way, to all of you who read and comment on my posts – offering insight and information. Thanks for that. This blog has generated more than 670,000 page views and 6,700 comments – and my knowledge of Port Rowan, S scale, and modelling has benefitted tremendously from this exchange of ideas.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about the power of blogs as a modelling tool, called “Tips for blogging about our hobby”. If you missed it, click on the dogs, below…


Three months in three weeks

I’ve now moved three more months’ worth of photos off Photobucket and onto my own servers, so I’m almost to the end of March, 2012. It has taken three weeks of spare time – between other activities – to re-code about three months worth of posts.

Slowly, but surely. It is taking time away from modelling, however. I’m making very slow progress on the Leedham Feed Mill – not enough to warrant another post at this time.

2011 is transferred

Two weeks ago today, I posted about the changes at Photobucket and how they could affect my blogs (including this one).

This morning, I finished transferring all images for posts made in 2011 to my own server. Given that I started the blog on August 29, 2011, that represents less than a half-year of blogging – and just 104 posts out of more than 1,200. So there’s still more to do – a lot more.

But it’s a start, and I now have a procedure that’s working for me.

Just thought everyone would like to know that at this rate, there should be no service interruption at Port Rowan in 1:64.

Shooting a cover

The editor of a hobby magazine emailed yesterday to ask for a vertical-format photo to use as a potential cover for a feature I wrote. I spent the next several hours composing and shooting 13 potential covers.

Shooting a cover.
(Lights, camera, cover? We’ll see if this composition makes the cut…)

I’m pretty excited: If my photo is used, it’ll be the first cover story related to my current layout in a mainstream monthly print publication. (My previous, Maine On2 layout made the cover of RMC several times.)

Cover shots are tricky. First, the vertical format is really challenging for almost all layout photography. We normally view our models (and our layouts) from the side. But the vertical format for a cover means it makes more sense to shoot along the layout instead of across it.

As anyone who has done layout tour photography will know, that creates all sorts of challenges. For example, Even if you’re just focussing on a couple of models in the foreground – just a few feet in front of the camera – you may have an expanse of sky that’s going to need lighting. In the case of the above photo, I had to light up about 15 feet of backdrop in Port Rowan, plus the background at the west end of St. Williams – about 25 feet away from the lens.

Another issue is the nature of trains themselves. Our model trains are low (extending just a few inches above the rails) but long (running for several feet). So shooting a train side-on is impossible when taking a vertical format photograph. Even shooting even a single piece of equipment side-on is tricky. For a vertical photo, even if the model fills the frame side-to-side, there’s going to be a ton of boring sky above it.

This is another reason to build realistically tall trees. They help add interest to the photo. It helps, too, that on a cover, much of the top of any photo will be covered by the magazine’s name/logo. There will also be several call-outs on the cover – “Gluing things to other things: Page 48” and so on – that help hide less desirable elements in the background of a photo. In my case, I have a sharp vertical line where the backdrop curves away from Port Rowan to enter the Lynn Valley, but cloning some trees in PhotoShop, combined with the logo and call-outs, will make that disappear from the viewer’s perception.

The logo, the call-outs, and other items like the location of mailing labels and UPC codes are all things one needs to think about while composing a cover. And that’s before any considerations about scene composition and engagement with the casual viewer. A cover needs to grab attention on the rack – whether it’s in a hobby-friendly location like the local model train emporium, or in an agnostic location like a book shop or grocery store, where it’s competing not only with other model railroading publications, but also all those other magazines vying for our money.

I know my layout photographs well, because I’ve found many interesting places to shoot images on it (which I’ve shared on this blog). But I’ve rarely done vertical format photos and I was surprised at how difficult it was to find an interesting location to shoot when the camera was rotated 90 degrees.

We’ll see how well I did if/when my shot is used on the cover.

Beyond that, I will wait until the article comes out before I reveal what it’s about and what magazine it’s in. At that time, I’ll also share some of the rejected cover shots.

Stay tuned…

Updating links, and expanding the directory

I’m in the process of reviewing my entire blog (Thanks for that, Photobucket!) and I’m finding some outdated/broken links.

Have you seen this link?

Realizing that fixing every link on the blog will be onerous, I’m considering simply dropping links for those sites I list fairly frequently. I’ve reviewed my “Links” directory on the right hand side of the home page, and have updated and re-organized those so they’ll be easier to use. I’ll be adding more links as I encounter them while reviewing my blog.

So, if you find a broken link in a post – or if you find a manufacturer listed without a link – the first place you should check is the “links” list. You might find a working link there. (If not, there’s always Google…)

If you still find a broken link, let me know using the “comments” section of this post. (As I fix them, I’ll delete your comment so I can keep track of those I still need to address.)

Also, I’m gradually adding a star (*) in posts next to anything that has a link in my Links directory. And I’m adding a note to the bottom of link-heavy posts reminding readers that the up-to-date links can be found in that directory. Something like this:

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

In the future, if a link breaks, the first place I’ll fix it is in the directory – not necessarily in all of the posts.

What the Photobucket?

 photo 54125fff2907a431c1e47adf848b4c4a_zps2w2rkd6o.jpg
(Read about the debacle on Yahoo! Finance, by clicking on the meter above)

“What the Photobucket?” – that’s an expletive being used by millions of people around the world right now.

I have been a Photobucket customer since September 2001, and have used it since I launched this blog to store and manage all the images I use here. This is called “Third Party Hosting” – and it could spell the end of this blog.

Here’s why:

On July 6th, Photobucket eliminated 3rd Party Hosting for all of its non-paying users, and made 3rd Party Hosting an exclusive feature of its top-tier, commercial subscription plan. Non-paying customers were cut off on July 6th. All of their links broke. The photos are still there – but they can’t be embedded and the links have broken that allowed already-embedded images to display elsewhere.

The company announced the changes in a news release on its blog. Another blog posting provides further information.

I happen to be a paying user. I pay Photobucket $30 per year for extra storage – which is the only reason you’re still seeing the photos on my blog. All paying customers, including yours truly, have received a grace period – until December 2018. Basically, I have a year and a half to decide whether to subscribe to the top-tier commercial plan – the Plus 500 – or to move all of my photos to another picture service (or my own servers) and edit all of the links in my blog’s coding.

The Plus 500 plan costs US$400 per year. I can’t justify US$400 per year for a blog that generates no revenue. I already pay a fair bit to my ISP each year to host the web site (The Model Railway Show), which includes the hosting service for this and other blogs I write.

Perhaps Photobucket will realize that its customers who make no money off their photos are willing to pay something, but can’t justify US$400 per year. Perhaps Photobucket will adjust its rates for 3rd Party Hosting.

But if they don’t, my alternative is to move the images – and edit all the links in my blogs. That’s problematic, too:

As of this writing, I have 3,029 images stored on Photobucket – including 2,222 images directly related to “Port Rowan in 1:64”. In many cases, I have used the same image several times on the blog – for example, as the link from a new post to an older one. (“Click on the image to read more…”) So, moving the images to another service and editing all of the links will be a huge undertaking.

I’m not sure I have the energy to do that. It’s a task that would be measured in weeks, if not months. I have more than 1,200 posts on this blog – if I update three posts per day, on average, I’ll finish migrating the blog over from Photobucket before the plug is pulled on 3rd Party Hosting.

Incidentally, I did a test of what it would take to migrate the blog, and I was able to do 25 posts over the course of 3-4 hours. So, it’s not completely out of reach – but it’ll be a lot of work. I have more than 1,200 posts on the blog, and counting. Then I have two other (albeit smaller) blogs to migrate. As a side benefit, if I do this I can clean up some of the older posts – for example, by fixing broken links. We’ll see…

While the manner in which Photobucket handled this change is pretty cruddy, I must admit I sympathize with the company’s plight. It’s a for-profit enterprise, and never pretended to be anything else. In my professional life, I expect my clients to pay for my services – so it would be hypocritical of me to expect Photobucket to provide its services for free. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been a paying customer for so many years.

Those in charge at Photobucket thought they had a workable business model, through a combination of ads associated with each gallery and modest subscription fees. Obviously, it doesn’t work: ad-blocking software and 3rd Party Hosting links have killed the revenue stream from advertising. The company notes in its news release that 75% of its costs arise from non-paying users employing 3rd Party Linking. So, the company had to do something.

Unfortunately, the manner in which they’ve executed these changes has angered a whole lot of people on the web. Many feel that Photobucket is trying to extort them – is somehow holding their photos hostage, unless they pay US$400/year:

 photo PB-more_zpsxv6asbup.jpeg
(Click on the image to read more on “The Register”)

As a result, I predict that most of those non-paying users will flee Photobucket for the next “free” service. They’ll abandon most of their photos, because they’re not really of value anyway: in the case of amateurs, the photographer has already shared the image and moved on. In the case of professionals – well, they rolled the dice on a free service. You get what you paid for.

Still, an exodus will me that Photobucket will become the service that stores more than 15 billion images that nobody looks at anymore.

The real question is, do I have until December 2018 to decide what to do? Or will the exodus force Photobucket into the Internet’s dustbin before then?

Enjoy the blog while you can…

(Since this is not a post related directly to Port Rowan in 1:64, I have disabled the comments feature. If you feel compelled to comment, there’s a very active thread on the subject on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum. Personally, I’d rather not get into a discussion about either the issue, or potential solutions: I’ll do my research and figure it out…)